Communication skills training: describing a new conceptual model

Richard F Brown, Carma L Bylund
Academic Medicine 2008, 83 (1): 37-44
Current research in communication in physician-patient consultations is multidisciplinary and multimethodological. As this research has progressed, a considerable body of evidence on the best practices in physician-patient communication has been amassed. This evidence provides a foundation for communication skills training (CST) at all levels of medical education. Although the CST literature has demonstrated that communication skills can be taught, one critique of this literature is that it is not always clear which skills are being taught and whether those skills are matched with those being assessed. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center Comskil Model for CST seeks to answer those critiques by explicitly defining the important components of a consultation, based on Goals, Plans, and Actions theories and sociolinguistic theory. Sequenced guidelines as a mechanism for teaching about particular communication challenges are adapted from these other methods. The authors propose that consultation communication can be guided by an overarching goal, which is achieved through the use of a set of predetermined strategies. Strategies are common in CST; however, strategies often contain embedded communication skills. These skills can exist across strategies, and the Comskil Model seeks to make them explicit in these contexts. Separate from the skills are process tasks and cognitive appraisals that need to be addressed in teaching. The authors also describe how assessment practices foster concordance between skills taught and those assessed through careful coding of trainees' communication encounters and direct feedback.

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